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Did seismic survey cause whale strandings?

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Climate Justice Taranaki want urgent research done into the recent whale strandings on Farewell Spit, to rule out any links between that tragedy and a similarly timed seismic survey in Taranaki performed nearby.

The Polarcus Alima was doing seismic testing only about 90km from Farewell Spit from January 5 until Janury 18. Between January 6th and January 18th more than 50 pilot whales beached themselves on Farewell Spit, and another 52 whales had either died or been put down over the previous two weeks in the area.

"Surely the coincidence is too high to be ignored. Research needs to be done urgently to rule out seismic testing as a cause before more seismic tests are undertaken around the country" said spokesperson Emily Bailey.

"Spring-summer is the main period when many historic strandings of pilot whales have occurred at Farewell Spit, in part due to migratory behaviour.

Why then was seismic surveying allowed to take place at this critical period, in such close proximity?"

According to Greenpeace USA, a US navy report admitted that their proposed sonar tests would "cause whales to abandon their normal feeding grounds and migration patterns". At least one seismic survey application was recently turned down in the USA due to similar concerns.

"Whether finding prey, navigating, or finding a mate, whales and dolphins

(collectively called cetaceans) are reliant on sound. New Zealand is an important habitat for many of the world’s cetacean species; however the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration has the potential to severely impact many of the cetaceans in our waters. The seismic surveying methods used during oil and gas exploration generate exceedingly loud sounds which may travel large distances through water. These activities therefore raise ocean noise levels to the point where behavioural and physiological impacts on cetaceans can occur. The noise produced by surveying activities may mask cetacean calls, interfering with behaviours that are crucial for survival and reproduction. In extreme cases, the noise produced during seismic surveying can cause physiological damage to cetaceans, resulting in disorientation, strandings and death." stated a 2013 report by Dr Rachel Shaw. Shaw suggested full necropsies be undertaken on the dead animals.

A march is to be held tomorrow (Friday January 24th) at 12:30pm in Midland Park, Wellington, by local group Oil Free Wellington who are protesting the arrival of the seismic survey ship MV Duke. The vessel is due to seismically survey the eastern Cook Strait for possible deep sea drilling for Texan company Anadarko. The Cook Strait is migration and feeding territory to many of the world's species of cetaceans.

"Any further seismic surveys need to be halted until it can be ruled out as the cause for the strandings and subsequent deaths of these whales. The Polarcus Alima should not be allowed to leave the port until then."

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